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BIOGRAPHY: Eugen Sandow, late 19th-early 20th century pro wrestler and "father of bodybuilding"

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Charles (Loss)

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The Prussia-born Friedrich Wilhelm Müller (Eugen Sandow, 1867-1925) was an iconic professional wrestler, nude model, and bodybuilder during the late 19th and early 20th century, an era during which the three industries had significant overlap as part of what at the time was called "physical culture". Heralded as the "Father of Bodybuilding", Eugen Sandow was a groundbreaking figure who established and published training methods still used by professionals today. He is largely credited with popularizing fitness and is often attributed with the quote, “What I live to teach is the gospel of health, and the bringing of the body to the condition to which Nature intended it.” Sandow had an impressive physique, even by today's standards, that he intentionally cultivated to resemble Greek and Roman sculpture, and he released several publications detailing how he achieved his look, all while advocating socially and politically for health and fitness causes. 

In 1894, as part of the first commercial motion picture ever released, Sandow flexed his muscles in a short Kinetoscope film. He would appear in additional films in the coming years, including the oldest known professional wrestling footage in existence, 1895's Ringkampfer, where Sandow grappled with John Greiner. Sandow started off performing impressive feats of strength -- he held a world record (later broken by George Hackenschmidt) for pressing 224 lbs with one hand -- but promoters quickly realized that fans, particularly women, were more interested in watching him pose than in seeing him perform a strongman act. His drawing power peaked in 1901 when thousands of fans were turned away from a sold out bodybuilding event that he headlined at London's Royal Albert Hall.

Wilhelm Baumann, generally considered the first booker in pro wrestling history, adopted the ring name Billy Sandow in tribute. Outside of pro wrestling and bodybuilding, Sandow counted Thomas Edison, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and other celebrities as friends, with King George V even designating Sandow as a "physical culture special instructor" in 1911 after being happy with his own bodybuilding success following Sandow's teachings. Sandow's legacy lives on primarily in the bodybuilding world, as a bronze statue in his image (simply called a "Sandow") has been presented to the winner of the Mr. Olympia contest every year since 1977. 

Sandow was born on April 2, 1867, in Königsberg, located in the Kingdom of Prussia, to a Russian mother and German father. Sandow's parents hoped that he would become a Lutheran minister, but he left Prussia in 1885 to avoid military service. Upon leaving home, Sandow joined a traveling circus where he adopted his stage name, which helped mask his identity and thus avoid consequences for avoiding the Prussian draft. He soon fell under the tutelage of Ludwig "Professor Attila" Durlacher. At Durlacher's urging, Sandow competed in and won a strongmen competition in London in 1889, where he became a viable attraction known for his incredible feats of strength. In 1896, Sandow married Blanche Brooks of Manchester, England; the couple had two daughters, Helen and Lorraine. On October 14, 1925, Sandow died of at his home in London from what was certified as an aortic aneurysm, but is believed in some circles to have been syphilis; despite his marriage, Sandow enjoyed the company of the many women who showed interest in him during his peak as a sex symbol. Sandow was 58 at the time of his death.

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